“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals, and German police spies.”
This is how The Communist Manifesto, one of the most influential political texts of the last two centuries, begins. The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, is essentially the policy of communist parties working on behalf of workers, who are exploited by the capitalist system, formed in the aftermath of feudalism.
Apart from being the most widely printed and circulated political text in the world, it has also been translated into most languages of the world. The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, is approaching its 175th anniversary.
World history itself may be classified into two segments – world history before The Communist Manifesto and world history after The Communist Manifesto. Let us take a look at how this book was written and some of the events that followed.
Karl Marx was born into a middle-class family in Germany on May 5, 1818. Friedrich Engels, the son of a businessman, was born in Germany on November 28, 1820. They became close friends because of similarities in their ways of thinking.
From a young age itself, they both used writing as a tool to revolt against the problems faced by the workers and the oppression inflicted by the ruling classes. At the time, Marx used to publish newspapers that opposed the German government. However, the authorities shut down those endeavours.
Joseph Moll, a representative of the League of the Just, a revolutionary organisation operating in London at the time, came to see Marx in 1847. His intention was to achieve a few requirements suggested by his organisation. He wanted Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to join the League of the Just and attend the first congress of the organisation. He requested Karl Marx and Engels to present their political agenda, which would be published by the organisation. It was a time when Marx wanted an organisation to be the political face of his thoughts, so he agreed to the demands made by Joseph Moll.
According to History.com, Friedrich Engels attended the First Congress of the League of the Just from June 2 to June 9, 1847, but, for some reason, Marx was unable to attend the congress. At this meeting, the name of the League of the Just was changed to the Communist League, which declared as its goal the destruction of bourgeois society and the founding of a classless society, free of privately owned wealth. In the Marxian context, bourgeoisie refers to the capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production.
In the Second Congress of the Communist League, which took place from November 29 to December 8, 1847, the policies to be put forward by the League were discussed.
After the First Congress, Engels was commissioned to draft a document intended to serve as a ‘profession of faith’ for the Communist League. Thus Engels wrote ‘Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith’. At the Communist League’s Paris branch, Engels found that it had approved a manifesto written by Moses Hess. Engels found the manifesto inadequate and criticised the document after finding a number of theoretical shortcomings.
Engels convinced the League to entrust him with the task of drafting a new version that incorporated the corrections he had pointed out in Hess’s manifesto. Engels wrote it in a question-and-answer format, but he was not satisfied with that document, either.
In the Second Congress of the Communist League, which took place from November 29 to December 8, 1847, the policies to be put forward by the League were discussed. Engels presented a document containing his critiques, and discussions continued. Marx’s opinion gained more support in the Congress. Marx was then tasked with identifying the theoretical problems in the document which Engels presented at the event of the second congress of the Communist League and to finalise the manifesto for the organisation.
According to the article The Historical Background of the Communist Manifesto by George R. Boyer published by the Cornell University Library, on January 26, 1848, Marx received a letter requesting that the policy of the Communist League be submitted as soon as possible. Marx’s delay in preparing the document had angered the leadership of the Communist League.
Marx began writing by combining his thoughts with information from Engels’ ‘Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith’. By the end of January 1848, Marx wrote a complete policy and sent the document to London.
The Communist Manifesto was first published in 1848 by the Workers Educational Association at Bishopgate, London. At that time, the name of the document was ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’. It was first published in German. Two years later, the English edition, translated by Helen McFarlane, was published in 1850 in the Chartist newspaper The Red Republican. This edition was the first to publish the names of Marx and Engels as authors.
Though the Manifesto itself did not play a major role in the revolutions, it did predict the impending working-class revolution.
The Communist Manifesto is divided into four sections. The first section discusses the Communist theory of history and the relationship between proletariats and bourgeoisie or the working class and the ruling class. In this section, Marx and Engels set forth the thought that history progresses through class struggles over the means of production. They predicted that the proletariats will eventually overthrow the bourgeois and lead Europe into a classless society. The second section discusses the relationships between the Communists and the working class. This section is a continuation of the first section. In this section, Marx and Engels argue that Communism is the purest representation of proletariats. They also discuss the exploitative nature of hired labour in this section.The third section explains the flaws in socialist literature. Marx and Engels define Communism and distinguishes it from socialist movements in this section. According to them, socialist movements want a progressive change while communism needs a deep and total change in the very structure of the society. The final section of The Communist Manifesto is a short chapter which discusses the relationship between Communists and other parties.
Revolutions against European dynasties were happening around the world at the time when the German version of The Communist Manifesto came out. The revolution, which began in France in February, spread across Europe. With a few isolated changes, the monarchic regimes suppressed the revolutions.
Though the Manifesto itself did not play a major role in the revolutions, it did predict the impending working-class revolution. With the suppression of the revolution, Marx was no longer interested in publishing the third edition of The Communist Manifesto. The Communist Manifesto gained worldwide circulation after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia.
This book, which discusses socialism as an alternative to the capitalist system and the system of communism that comes with it, still has an active presence in the world.The Young Karl Marx, a 2017 historical drama film directed by Raoul Peck, is about the life of Karl Marx and Engels, the transformation of the League of the Just into the Communist League, and the early ideologies of The Communist Manifesto.
The Communist Manifesto ends with the motto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”. It formed the basis of the modern Communist movement. Even though Marx’s analysis cannot be applied directly to the modern world without revision, the fundamental problem with which he was concerned- capital, labour and the liberation of the working class, is still relevant in today’s capitalist society.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of the differences between proletarians and bourgeoisie?
Can you think of the relevance of The Communist Manifesto in this modern world?
How would you describe the contributions of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the growth fo Communism?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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